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From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey Paperback – December 2, 2003

4.7 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Khoo Thwe, born in 1967, debuts with a remarkable portrait of his childhood in Phekhon, "the only Catholic town in Burma," among the Padaung people, a subtribe of the Karenni "known for what outsiders call our `giraffe women' because of their necks being elongated by rings." Modernity seeps into Phekhon slowly-only in 1977 did the locals learn, along with news of Elvis's death, that Americans had landed on the moon. The Catholic and animist fables that the author and his 10 siblings live by would be the emblems of a fairy tale life were it not for the violence and economic crises of the dictatorship of General U Ne Win. Khoo Thwe enters Mandalay University during the years when thousands of student activists were killed or imprisoned by the government. A charismatic student organizer, he is forced in 1988 to flee with fellow students to the jungles on the border of Thailand, where a stay with a Karenni rebel group makes him realize they too were "more interested in claiming leadership than in actually giving lead." But while a student, the author, working as a waiter, met John Casey, a Cambridge don who organized a miraculous rescue of the young man. Khoo Thwe's story ends with his studying English literature at Caius College, Cambridge. It is a heartbreaking tale-he is not able to return to Burma and only meets his family at the Thai border for a few hours years later-told with lyricism, affection and insight. Line illus.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“A political statement as well as a poetic lament, the book is a true work of art.” (Financial Times)

“A page-turner…deeply moving, beautifully written, and most inspiring. My heart was filled with joy and gratitude.” (Nien Chang, author of Life and Death in Shanghai)

“Rich, vivid and never..cloying...a marvelous book, full of pity, yearning and wisdom.” (Sunday Telegraph)

“A magical story, full of richness and subtlety, told with the instinctive touch of a true writer.” (Mail on Sunday)

“A distinguished accomplishment that radiates both intelligence and spiritual awareness.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“A heartbreaking tale, told with lyricism, affection and insight.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“The best memoir you will read this year.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Unique as much for the riveting story it tells as for the sublime way it is told.“ (Seattle Times)

“[A] writer of uncommon elegance and sensitivity.” (New York Times Book Review)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (December 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060505230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060505233
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Richard Harrold on April 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Pascal Khoo Thwe opens this extraordinary book with the sentence: "When I was young I used to watch the rising sun with amazement." Incredibly, Khoo Thwe sustains our amazement as he relates the corruption of Burma through his eyes while growing up in its remote mountains. His words are informative and caring, painting not with the brush of pity as he portrays his home village and his family in their humble lives, but with one of deference and honor.
"From the Land of Green Ghosts" is more than an autobiography and more than a history: it is a testament to a young man's persistent search for truth and a place in life where he can just be happy. The author's prosaic language is suited well for the narrative, and a fine example of how well the author learned English in so short a time when his goals were achieved.
It is also a sorrowful tale because the woes of the Burmese remain, the grip is still retained by the military junta. I highly recommend this book, as well as "The Stone of Heaven" by Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark.
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Format: Paperback
I liked this book immensely on several levels. As an anthropologist, I found it very interesting to get a Padaung's eye view, written in literate English, of his own background, his childhood in the remote, forested mountains of eastern Burma. The author tells of everything---from the strictures of Roman Catholic missionaries in far parts of Asia, to eating dogs, baby wasps, and snakes (with relish), his grandmother's stories, guardian spirits, a Padaung funeral. The Burmese political climate of the 1960s and `70s merely lurks in the background until the author drops out of a seminary and heads to Mandalay to attend university. While information about various remote peoples is not uncommon, it is usually processed by foreign writers who have visited them. FLGG gives it to you from the horse's mouth.

On a second level I admired Pascal Khoo Thwe because I'm an American, grandson of immigrants who left traditional villages in Russia for a new life, a freer life, in America. Odysseys like Khoo Thwe's form the essence of the American experience, but perhaps few are so dramatic---from university student, to jungle fighter to student at Cambridge University to published author. I can easily see the difficulties of becoming a new man (my family took the last name "Newman", but the real story is long) in a new country. I recalled Sir Albert Maori Kiki, a Papua New Guinean born into a Stone Age village, but who became a pathologist and high ranking Minister in his newly-independent country. I once had read his book, "Kiki: Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime" and had been inspired by it.

This leads me to admire the book on a third level.
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Format: Paperback
Culture and tradition, funny or deadly serious anecdote followed by a harrowing confrontation with Burma's brutal military regime characterize "From the Land of the Green Ghosts." Yet the story is told so gracefully that one feels eased into a life and death struggle rather than abruptly confronted by it (as one might find with a Western writer.) The advantage is that the author, the gifted Pascal Khoo Thwe, can punctuate his narrative with a precise, violent detail. Heart-stopping scenes appear neither moral nor immoral, only horrifying, a postcard from one of the most repressed countries in the world.

Thwe is unpretentious and perceptive. He has a gift for language few possess (indeed, English is not his first, second or even third language.) Still, the author fears that none of these assets exist in him. He is mistaken

Yet while it may sound like self-deception -- escaping jungle warfare to attend an elite college in order to "help" his people -- the book undoes this assumption. Admittedly, it is easier to write flowing prose in England as opposed to dodging mortars (or succumbing to malaria) along the Thai-Burmese border; but it is hard to imagine that any rebel fighter could have better informed the world about Burma's plight than is offered here by Pascal Khoo Thwe.
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By A Customer on January 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book and a very interesting read. It offers a both a detailed description of life growing up in a hill tribe in Burma and a broader look at the tragic consequences of years of totalitarian rule by the corrupt and failed government of Burma (now "officially" Myanmar). The author's journey to the border and subsequent escape from the country almost reads like a fiction novel. However, this true story is written with the respect and insight of a man well aware of the gravity of his country's plight. His book does the reader, and the people of his troubled country, a great service.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I live in Thailand and have traveled to Burma (sometimes called "Myanmar"). I was prepared to like this book and I was expecting the heroic life story that I got. I was not, however, prepared for the beauty of the writing and the depth of the tragedy so simply, but touchingly, told. It is simply amazing to me that anyone can write so beautifully in a second language; Thwe is very talented. I hope that he keeps writing. I also hope that in his next book, he drops some of the reserve that characterizes his cultural upbringing and lets us into his inner life a little more.
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